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Dave Yoder: Finding a New Tune With Whistleblowers

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Tina Gonter, defense industry whistleblower

Writers counsel each other, “Write what you know.” If I were smart I’d stop now. This is a confession of ignorance.

Considering the subject matter, my project was born in an unlikely scene: Tuscany. A villa sitting on a hill. Aperol spritzes on a summer afternoon, fried zucchini flowers, dinner concluded with a frosty limoncello digestivo. I’m at a long table lined with American attorneys, all of them whistleblower lawyers. They are encouraging me to shoot a documentary on whistleblowers, and saying that they will hook me up with their clients.

Journalism usually doesn’t happen that way. Projects aren’t commonly born at villas, and lawyers don’t often extend their clients to us so easily. But they weren’t ordinary lawyers, and I realized I’d been handed a fertile subject that had been hiding in plain sight. I’d been blind because the potential for anything beyond a portrait series (yawn), wasn’t immediately evident to me.

This is a story for video, and I wouldn’t blame a pro for saying I’ve got no business doing it. I’d never shot video or conducted an interview, and had long been a bit of a stills snob, my prejudice stretching back to a years-old conversation in which a videographer once told me, “Well, it’s not that hard, you just point and shoot. I wish I could say it’s an art, but really, that’s all there is to it.”

Now that I’ve had my first experiences making video, replete with amateurish blunders, he wouldn’t get away with saying that again unchallenged.

A few months after Tuscany, I packed up a DSLR and a basic audio kit, with which I was supposed to do something at -12db but wasn’t entirely sure I knew what that was, and caught a flight to Washington D.C.

I thought I had adequately arranged to shoot at a seminar of whistleblowers and their attorneys. However, after arriving I was barred from shooting the actual event, and I scrambled to salvage the trip. I borrowed a light from my cinematographer friend Ryan Hill, begged the hotel hosting the conference for an empty meeting room, and utterly unprepared, began my first-ever interviews with some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.

As a photographer, I’m used to exploring a more two-dimensional, terrestrial geography, one where I collapse space and nullify time into a captured moment. And I still love doing that. But my foray into this new terrain of kinetic, emotional geography, using this new medium, gripped me.

I want to explore the psychology of these people who see no shades of gray, for whom the trumpet of their moral compass eclipses concern for their jobs, their homes, their friends, sometimes even their family.

So apparently I’ve begun my first documentary film. Am I qualified? Certainly not by professional standards. Nobody would hire me for this. But I’d like to believe that sometimes you just have to throw yourself at something new and accept the inevitable mistakes as the cost of growing. To owe nothing to perfection, a deadline, or an important client often liberates. Sometimes, it opens up possibilities that otherwise would not be.

The great German film director Wim Wenders said, “I can only blame myself for all mistakes, be proud of some of my flops and suspicious of some of my successes.”

On this one occasion, I can confidently say that if he can do that, so can I.

More information about Dave Yoder’s Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

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